Sermon; Advent 1B; Mark 13:24-37
As I said at the beginning of the announcements, “Happy New Year!”
Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday in the liturgical cycle, and the first Sunday of Year B. Unlike most New Years that begin with hopes and dreams of prosperity and improvements, with promises or vows to turn over a new leaf, or with promises to take on goals for personal betterment, the new Church year begins with a dire warning about the end of days. Instead of promises of betterment, we hear promises of destruction, of a darkened sun, of falling stars, and dire warnings about the unknown hour of the master's return.
Happy New Year?
Chapter 13 of Mark is traditionally called, “The Little Apocalypse,” mainly because it is short. Mark 13 is the extent of apocalyptic writing in the gospel. It is set up by the disciples commenting to Jesus how grand the temple was. Jesus basically replies, “Not one stone will be left; all this will be thrown down.” And in a private moment with the inner circle – Peter, Andrew, James, and John – he is asked, “When will all this take place?” And here Jesus goes off on his apocalyptic rant.
In the part of the chapter we didn't hear today, Jesus talks of false prophets and wars, of famines and earthquakes, of trials and tribulations, of beatings and betrayals, of the desolating sacrilege, and of all sorts of other mean, nasty, horrible, ugly things. And from what we did hear, a darkened sun and falling stars, heaven and earth passing away, and a warning to keep awake and stay alert.
The end is coming. Happy New Year.
This little apocalypse is particularly interesting to me right now because I'm watching a video series on the Book of Revelation that is put out by Trinity Wall Street. If you also would like to watch it, you can go to the “About Us” tab on our website, click on Education, and there's a blurb with a link.
In that series the Rev. Dr. Michael Battle says that because Jesus is the alpha and omega we cannot read Revelation in chronological time from Point A to Point B. Instead we must read it in kairos time, or God's time, recognizing that God is the beginning and ending, the ending and the beginning. “How,” he asks, “is God being revealed through the imagination of the Apocalypse?”
We can ask the same thing with regard to Mark's little apocalypse: How is God being revealed through the imagination that is being presented to us today?
While we may know enough to not read Revelation as a chronological road map to the end days, and while we might apply that non-chronological view to Mark's little apocalypse, we might let our imagination run wildly dark when reading these pieces of scripture.
We have probably all heard or read some of those imaginative dark interpretations. The end is coming based on the generational timeline of Revelation and the state of Israel being created in 1947. The end is coming because the ratio of ships destroyed in WWII is the same as the ratio of ships destroyed in Revelation. The end is coming because Apache helicopters look just like the locusts mentioned in Revelation. The end is coming because nuclear war between the US and insert-enemy-of-the-day here will result in a darkened sun. And no, I am not making any of this up.
I want you to notice something: All of those interpretations focus on the death and destruction of not only the world, but of those whom the interpreters deem unworthy or evil. All of those interpretations are, in essence, revenge fantasies based on a made up chronological time.
But what if we used a different focus for our apocalyptic imagination?
In Revelation we are given a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. A vision of God dwelling with his people and a place where death, mourning, crying, and pain are no more. A place where the tree of life grows for the healing of nations.
In today's gospel passage we are also given some dark and terrifying images. There are those who would interpret and use these images in order to strike fear into the hearts of people or, worse, to use this apocalyptic vision to define whom God destroys and whom God welcomes into life.
Again, what if we used a different focus for our apocalyptic imagination?
In the beginning of this chapter Jesus says that not one stone of the temple will be left; that all will be thrown down. And toward the end of the chapter he says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” While this may seem dark and terrifying (all will be thrown down, all will pass away), I think we can employ a positive imagination here.
In this life, all created things pass away. Civilizations fall into ruins and are eventually forgotten. Buildings collapse. Old neighborhoods change. People die. Heaven and earth, as created things, will pass away. But the word of God will not pass away.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Everyone who hears these words and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock. Then they remembered his words.
For thousands of years people have seen signs of the coming of the end of the world all around them. Every generation has faced famines and wars and false prophets. It isn't too hard to see visions of the end in the world around us today – politically, socially, economically, ethically, spiritually. But rather than panic and build fallout bunkers in our basement, or rather than ignore the signs and bury our head in the sand, we must continue to stay awake and keep alert. Do not put your faith in the signs and times of that which will pass away. Rather, put your faith in the enduring word of God which will never pass away.
If we hold fast to the words of Christ, if we put our hope in the words of Christ, if we obey the words of Christ, then we just might be able to help usher in a time when people receive healing from the tree of life, drink from God's living waters, and create a place that is better today than yesterday and better tomorrow than today. Through the imaginative and enduring words of Christ we can see our world in God's time, where God is Alpha and Omega, first and last, beginning and ending, ending and beginning.
Happy New Year. This Advent, how will your imagination reveal God to the world?